Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Monday, 31 May 2010

Sewing Mistresses of Harris

These are the ladies as recorded in the 1841-1901 censuses. I have made comments following each census:

Mary Galbraith, 37, Teacher of Embroidery, Wife, b. Ireland

Mary, who lived at the house built by the Countess of Dunmore for the Gardener (Henry Galbraith) is not strictly a 'Sewing Mistress' but I have included her for the sake of completeness.

Jessie E Macrae, 24, Embroidery School Mistress, Head, b. Thurso, Caithness-shire
(Mary Galbraith, 47, Teacher of Embroidery, Wife, b. Ireland)
Mary Macaulay, 21, School Mistress, Industrial School, b. Stornoway

It would be interesting to know when Mary Galbraith first had an assistant but I presume that Jessie's presence is indicative of the success of the Emroidery School at this time.

Mary Macaulay has been included because this is the only reference I have found specifically to an 'Industrial School' in Harris. There were 34 people at the address 'Industrial School' in 5 households but the precise location is unknown to me.

Jessie Brunton, 32, Sewing Mistress 'Elm School', Wife, b. Meigle, Perthshire
Mary Mackinnon Jnr, 32, Sewing Mistress (School), Sister, Crofter's Dwelling House, b. Harris
Bella Macrae, 30, Housemaid and Sewing Mistress, South Harris Niece, b. Lochalsh, Ross
Mary Morrison, 37, Sewing Mistress, Daughter, East Tarbert 32, b. Harris
Isabella Macaskill, 25, Sewing Mistress, Sister-in-Law, Missionary's House, b. Lochs

We do not see our first Sewing Mistresses until 1881 following the introduction of the the Education Act (Scotland) 1872. Was 'Elm School' a name, or merely shorthand for 'Elementary'? It might even be 'Embroidery'... Our one precise location is East Tarbert but I would like to know where in North Harris the 'missionary's House' was.

Margaret Macrae, 39, Sewing Mistress, Wife, Finsbay, b.Uig, Lewis
Christy Gillanders, 29, Sewing Mistress, Daughter, Private House, Geocrab, b. Lewis
Jane Brown, 37, Sewing Mistress, Wife, Public Schoolhouse, Kyles Stockinish, b. Loudon, Ayrshire
Jessie Young, 21, Teacher's Wife Sewing Mistress, Wife, 19 Drinishader, b. Harris
Marion Duncan, 36, Sewing Mistress, Wife, Public School, North Harris, b. Harris
Mary Morrison, 47, Sewing Mistress, Daughter, No 10 East Tarbert, b. Harris
Peggy Morrison, 22, Sewing Mistress, Daughter, Scalpay No 74, b. Harris
Bessie Mackinnon, 53, Sewing Mistress, Sister, Scalpay No 56, b. Harris
Catherine S Smith, 30, Sewing Mistress, Sister, Scalpay No 25, b. Kilfinan, Argyll

A very noticeable shift has taken place with the appearance of the four ladies in the Bays from Finsbay, via Geocrab and Kyles Stockinish, to Drinishader. Mary Morrison is still in East Tarbert and Scalpay makes a significant, and intriguing, appearance.

Catherine Campbell, 26, Sewing Mistress, Daughter, 7 Plocrapool, b. Harris
Maggie Simpson, 33, Sewing Mistress 'Occasional', Wife, School house, Drinishader, b. Glasgow

What we can say is that, for a brief time in the late 19thC, there were several ladies working specifically as Sewing Mistresses and that their numbers and distribution again reflect the general trend away from the South as the home of innovation.

There are several obvious gaps here such as where are the Sewing Mistresses for the Schools in the South after 1881?, or of Tarbert in 1901? It may be that several of those teaching Sewing are 'hidden' amongst those not specifying a subject on the census returns.

Whatever the reason, at least we have these recorded Sewing Mistresses of Harris.

Update: As a result of researching some more of the web of connections in the isles, I have discovered that Bessie Mackinnon, the Sewing Mistress in Scalpay in 1891, was the sister-in-law of my 3rd great aunt Ann Kerr. Bessie was the daughter of the blind tailor, Alexander MacKinnon who was cleared from Abhainnsuidhe to ake way for the castle there in the 1860s and Ann Kerr, my aunt, was the daughter of the tailor John Kerr of Direcleit, Harris.

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